VETTE was there for the official introduction of The King. Our July '89 cover headline is
"Don't believe the hype" became a popular saying in the '90s. When it came to the ZR-1, however, this one never quite caught on. The new Vette delivered what it promised-almost. It's 385 hp did come up short of the 400 mark, at least until 1993's power upgrade (see "40 the Fast Way," page 34). But if the rate those first cars were snapped up-even with the approximately $30,000 the ZR-1 option cost and some hefty dealer mark-ups-was any indication, it was close enough.
Here was a car that did it all. It was a docile, cool-running street car with great gas milege one moment, but turn that "Power" key, kicking in the secondary fuel injectors and intake runners, and you were ready to deal with anything Germany or Italy had to offer. The ZR-1 was, and is, everything that Corvette had been up to that point. At once brutish and refined, it seamlessly melded Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde into one damn sexy package that could handle anything you cared to throw at it.
Ironically, the success of the ZR-1 is part of what killed it. The new car's rear fascia became standard on the base model starting in 1991 (albeit in a narrower version), essentially making the two indistinguishable. The LT-1 development team was spurred on to come close in performance, and they did so, for a lot less money. Production declined and price went up, and less people became willing to pay for an engine option that cost almost as much as a whole base Corvette. Citing prohibitive EPA certification costs for 1996, Chevrolet stopped LT5 production in 1993, and sold the last ZR-1s in 1995. The King was dead.
Well, not really dead. This is a happy story in some ways. The ultimate Vette lives on in the hands of those who are lucky enough to own the only car that can carry the title "King of the Hill." A twist of that power key followed by a stomp on the loud pedal is all it takes to remind a Corvette enthusiast that, in many ways, this is the Corvette.
The five-spoke wheel made it into production; the "ZR-1" lettering did not.
But where are we now? Well, the developers of the still-new LS1 are another group that was inspired by the success of the LT5. Of course, there are rumors that we're going to see a sizeable power increase for the C5 next year. And we know the chassis can handle more power, as well as handling upgrades. Sound familiar? Let's hope lightning strikes twice. Until then...Long Live the King!
(For those wishing to read more about the King of the Hill, VETTE recommends The Heart of the Beast by Anthony Young, ISBN 0-911968-99-7, published by Automobile Quarterly, Inc.)
10 Ways To Identify A ZR-1
1. Logo on right rear bumper.
2. Raised "Corvette" lettering on rear fascia.
3. Three-inch wider rear fascia with spacer panels on either side of license plate.
4. Side fender logos on '92 and later models.
5. Menacing, throaty exhaust note.
6. Eleven-inch rims with 315/35-17 tires in the rear.
7. Four square exhaust outlets on '90-91s.
8. Hatchback-mounted center high-mounted stop lamp.
9. Specially laminated "solar" glass with a "hole" in the windshield for radardetectors.
10. That rapidly disappearing dot on the horizon as you struggle to keep up.
ZR-1: The Ultimate C4
The ZR-1 was the real C4 Corvette. Everything that came before the ZR-1 was just practice for the real thing. The ZR-1 was the Corvette that Dave McLellan thought about when he first envisioned a Corvette that would replace the old Stingray. He wasn't really sure how this dream Corvette would turn out, but he knew that it had to be something special.